In its shopfronts cashmere sweaters the colors of macaroons. Behind their digicodes its reposing hameaux. In its ballot boxes three out of every four votes for Sarkozy. Hidden in their Maseratis its children dressed in black. The sixteenth arrondissement of Paris is a peninsula between the Bois de Boulogne (which belongs to it) and the Seine; there is the slight feeling of a border crossing, of breaching a feeble forcefield, upon entering or leaving. One can find here the works of Perret, Sauvage and, soon, Gehry, but it is the section of the Earth’s surface with the greatest concentration of buildings by Hector Guimard (1867-1942). The seizième is to Guimard as Oak Park is to Frank Lloyd Wright, except that it contains works from all periods of the architect’s career, from 1891 to 1927. Along the way one passes other buildings which support the contention, inherently arguable and worth arguing, that the sixteenth is the most architecturally interesting arrondissement. Annexed to the city in 1860, the seizième grew up in what we might call, with light apologies to Robert Caro, The Years of Hector Guimard, a complex, under-appreciated and richly contested period in the history of modern architecture. A new eclecticism began to rebel against the last moments of a played-out Haussmannization. Many modernisms were in play. Art Nouveau, which seems barely able to contain Guimard’s work, let alone the output of the entire period, may now seem the stuff of coffee table books, a particularly beautiful dead end, a fashion, a decorative style, but its surviving remnants hint of an influence more spiritual than physical.
À ses devantures les pulls en cachemire aux couleurs des macarons. Derrière leurs digicodes ses hameaux reposants. Dans ses urnes les trois-quarts des votes pour Sarkozy. Cachés dans leurs Maseratis ses enfants habillés en noir. Le seizième arrondissement de Paris est en effet une péninsule entre le bois de Boulogne (qui lui appartient) et la Seine. Une frontière invisible le cerne, une petite résistance entre l’arrondissement et sa ville. On peut y retrouver les bâtiments de Perret, de Sauvage et (bientôt) de Gehry mais le seizième est le lieu de notre planète avec la plus grande concentration des bâtiments de Hector Guimard (1867-1942). Le seizième est à Guimard ce que Oak Park est à Frank Lloyd Wright, mais on peut y voir les bâtiments de toutes les périodes de sa carrière, de 1891 à 1927. Parmi ces bâtiments il y a bien des autres qui soutient la proposition, discutable j’espère, que le seizième soit l’arrondissement le plus intéressant sur le plan architectural. Après sa annexion à Paris en 1860, l’urbanisation arrivait au seizième pendant les années de Hector Guimard, une époque de plusieurs modernismes. À Paris un nouveau éclectisme architectural a commencé à résister l’Haussmannization épuisée. L’Art nouveau ne peut pas décrire l’ensemble de l’architecture de ces années, ou même l’architecture de Guimard lui-même, qui changeait au fil du temps. Puisque sa architecture n’était pas influente par rapport aux modernismes des années suivantes, l’oeuvre de Guimard vive trop souvent aux musées plutôt que dans les rues. Bien qu’il était une impasse dans l’histoire de l’architecture, qui ne veut pas habiter une telle ruelle.
I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.
Exhibitions of progressive new Iranian art have flourished over the last several years, in commercial galleries in the Middle East and in diasporic centers like New York and London. The most recent major contribution to this ongoing introduction is Iranian Arts Now at Cité International des Arts in Paris until July 24. Though the emergent profile of contemporary Iranian art has been supported by dealers like Leila Heller in New York and the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran, broader public exposure is being facilitated by museum exhibitions, and notable ones include Iran Inside Out at the Chelsea Art Museum in 2009 and a current exhibition, Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection, at the Metropolitan Art Museum.
A true story: one day at the New South Wales Department of Planning two planners are talking about different theories of urban planning. ‘Neoliberal planning,’ the first says, “that’s what we do.” “No kidding,” the other replies.
“No kidding” might be replaced by “yer darn tootin” after the release of the NSW Government’s A New Planning System for New South Wales – Green Paper. If the title doesn’t quite grab you, a new planning system, however boring, will have a far greater impact on people’s lives than more juicy topics like a new Museum of Contemporary Art or a new pavilion for the Venice Biennale. Planning is the most visible juncture at which architecture meets politics, and what the Government is proposing is interesting for the way that it reveals urban planning as the point where conservatism begins to conflict with itself, where a libertarian sensibility runs counter to pro-business economic rationalist conservatism. The development industry is not quite a friend of the invisible hand; it does best when certain freedoms are curtailed. This was shown most clearly in the US by the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which expanded the Constitution’s “Takings Clause” (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) to allow governments to claim eminent domain for purposes of private redevelopment.
When walking into Paris’s first retrospective exhibition of the photographs of Eva Besnyö at the Jeu de Paume, I was met with three mysterious images, visually linked by their askew perspectives. One is a self-portrait of Besnyö, who was born in Budapest in 1910 and broke free of Hungary’s provincial constraints to become a Berlin-based photographer at the young age of 20. The image of the woman in the portrait looks, in a word, contemporary. Unconventionally beautiful, Besnyö looks intensely into her medium format camera, hair tousled as her neck cranes above the view finder to which she is acutely focused, projecting an image of herself as an intense, slightly bohemian artist at work. Besnyö orchestrated this image of 1931 so that the viewer looks up to her from down below, and thus elevated before us is a powerful figure who directs our gaze and controls her own image long before similar strategies were conceived by feminist artists of the 1960s. It is from this point that the viewer commences into an exhibition of 120 prints by a photographer who has been given too little attention.
The global city is an oxymoron. No one lives there. Any decent-sized city is an intensely local argument generating machine and the way in which cities fight about architecture is as revealing as the materials of their curbstones. These arguments are unfolding history. It’s worth paying attention to whether they are depressing or enlivening, who participates in them and for what reasons. In the midst of relentless planetary crisis, these juicy little local fights can seem unimportant. A dispute such as the current one about the future of the banks of the Seine might seem indulgent until one remembers the hardly old but nevertheless a bit out of fashion adage about thinking globally and acting locally. Aside from what they can teach us, local questions provide a bastion of the real against all the gloppy, terminally imprecise words about global this and global that. At a certain point the urge to turn away from the virtual and toward the animal, the mineral and the vegetal becomes overwhelming and probably healthy. Perhaps the only way to overcome, or at least hide from the hegemony of numbers will be, like Laurel and Hardy taking the sea air in Saps at Sea (1940), to seek out familiar places where the discourse suits us.